America’s involvement in War in Iraq

Introduction

America’s involvement in Iraq has often been called by some strategic experts as the worst strategic decision since the Vietnam War. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, America declared a ‘War on Terror’ and invaded Afghanistan to root out the perpetrators of the Twin Towers terror attacks. The reasons as to why the US decided to open another front in Iraq are a subject of intense debate. This essay aims to cover the background of the Iraq War, the possible reasons, the conduct of the campaign so far and the possible future course of action.

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About Iraq

Iraq, a Muslim dominated country located in the Middle East between Iran and Kuwait has always had a tumultuous past. Originally part of the Ottoman empire, this country of 23 million, consist of a majority of Shia Muslims(60-65%), followed by Sunni Muslims (32-37%), the Kurds (15-20%) and a sprinkling of Christians and lesser sects (CIA World Fact Book, 1). Since its independence, the country has been dominated by the Baathist party, a Sunni dominated grouping, which ruled with an iron hand over the majority Shia population. Saddam Hussein was the latest in the line of Sunni military leaders in power in Iraq. Iraq’s geo-strategic importance to the world lies in its oil reserves. The Economist reports that “Iraq’s proven reserves, of 115 billion barrels, are the world’s third largest after Saudi Arabia and Iran”(42). During the Iran-Iraq war, Iraq was helped by the US with generous supply of weapons. However, the relationship soon turned sour with Iraq embarking on an independent foreign policy and a tilt towards pan-Islamic causes. Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait in 1990 led to a UN mandated First Gulf War which led to its defeat. The second war with Iraq was ostensibly triggered by repeated violations of UN Security Council resolutions and chiefly due to the suspicion that Iraq was procuring Weapons of Mass destruction (WMD). The Second Iraq war was not a UN mandated intervention but a unilateral action by the US with its ‘coalition of the willing’. After a quick victory in Mar 2003, which led to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the war in Iraq rapidly deteriorated into an internecine conflict in which other state and non-state actors have also been involved.

The main reason why America invaded Iraq

The main reason why America invaded Iraq seems to be the lure of oil. In the months leading up to the actual invasion, Saddam Hussein had reportedly been threatening to convert Iraq’s oil trade from trading in Dollars to Euros. Such a move would have caused significant damage to the American economy. Iraq was also indulging in illegal sale of its oil under the ‘oil for food’ program wherein it was procuring weapons in lieu. Iraq’s support of Middle East terrorist groups was also cited as one of the reasons why America needed to intervene. It was also suspected that Iraq had supported Al Qaeda in carrying out the Twin Towers attack. The chief reason forwarded that Iraq was procuring WMD was proven to be false with the revelations that the intelligence dossiers had been deliberately doctored to support the cause. The other less charitable views hold that ultra right wing activism and imperial hubris were responsible for this ill planned misadventure. The declaration of War on Terror and its general course has been criticized by diplomats the world over. According to Gordon, this “approach to the war on terror has created more terrorists than it has eliminated”(para1).

Whatever the reasons, the American planners defaulted grievously in assessing the actual ground situation. The strategists did not fathom the level of animosity that exists between the Shias and the Sunnis whose irreconcilable differences are rooted in an ancient past. With the removal of Saddam Hussein, the first few serious missteps such as disbanding the Iraqi army and ‘debaathification’ of the political class left a large section of the population without employment, with plenty of arms and many an inducements from other players resulting in an internecine conflict bordering on a civil war. According to Baker III & Hamilton, “sectarian violence causes the largest number of Iraqi civilian casualties”(10). Yet another serious miscalculation was the number of troops put on ground in Iraq. Winning a war based on minimum force levels and ‘shock and awe’ does not preclude the need for manpower in a post war stabilization scenario.

The removal of Saddam Hussein

The removal of Saddam Hussein and the ‘debaathifcation’ process handed Iran a strategic advantage without even firing a shot. At one go, Iran now had a Shia majority government in power in Iraq, which it could manipulate giving rise to the fears of a future ‘Shia Super state’ in the Middle East. Iran realizing the trouble that the US was facing upped its support to the Shia rebel groups in Iraq who are at odds with the US armed forces. A steady supply of arms, ammunition, money and training of insurgents continues to make its way from Tehran.

Al Qaeda in Iraq

Adding to the American problems has been the presence of Al Qaeda in Iraq whose army of volunteers has caused the deaths of thousands of Iraqi civilians and American soldiers. According to Sabir, “the death toll in Iraq is taking a toll on middle-class America it is middle-income American families, 86.8%, who are disproportionately represented in military deaths”(1). A majority of American deaths in the initial years of the war were from Improvised Explosives Devices (IEDs). As the American countermeasures grew more effective, insurgents now have changed tack and have increased the rate of suicide attacks with women joining in as suicide bombers. The cost of the war in Iraq has been humungous. According to Baker III & Hamilton, “estimates run as high as $ 2 trillion for the final cost of the US involvement in Iraq”(27). Adding to the capital costs, the human costs have been tremendous. Over 3000 US personnel have died since the beginning of the Iraq war. The medical costs of the war are also increasing in geometric progression with increasing number of soldiers reporting sick for Post Traumatic Stress Disorders along with the physical disabilities. The infusion of extra troops called as the ‘surge’ has helped bring down the violence significantly in recent months as Biddle, Hanlon & Pollack report, “violence is down at least 80 percent since the surge began.”(para 5). However, this is appreciated to be a temporary reprieve. The Iraqi government, its law enforcement agencies and the Iraqi army is in no shape to manage the affairs of the country without the support of American forces.

Conclusion

The choices that are now available to the US are stark. To withdraw precipitously from Iraq would lead to a renewed civil war as Huckabee succinctly states, “Withdrawing from Iraq before the country is stable and secure would have serious strategic consequences for us and horrific humanitarian consequences for the Iraqis. Iraq’s neighbors on all sides would be drawn into the war and face refugee crises”(para 12). A withdrawal of the US from the region to concentrate on Afghanistan will leave a power vacuum in the region, which is sure to be filled in by Iran. Withdrawal will also enable Al Qaeda to stage a recovery in Iraq where its fortunes have been on low ebb for the past few months. So while the President-elect, Barack Obama may have promised a withdrawal from Iraq, ground realities will force him to change his position on taking office. America is likely to remain embroiled in the Iraqi quagmire for the foreseeable future till such time the Iraqi establishment becomes resilient enough to handle internal and external threats.

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Works Cited

Baker III, James A & Hamilton, Lee H. “The Iraq Study Group Report”. 2008. Web.

Biddle, Stephen, Hanlon, Michael E.O & Pollack, Kenneth M. 2008. How to Leave a Stable Iraq. Foreign Affairs. Web.

CIA World Fact Book website. 2008. “Iraq”. Web.

Gordon, Philip H. 2007. Can the War on Terror Be Won? How to Fight the Right War. Foreign Affairs. Web.

Huckabee, Michael D. 2008. America’s Priorities in the War on Terror Islamists, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan. Foreign Affairs. Web.

Sabir, Nadirah. “Casualties of War.” Black Enterprise 39.2 (2008): 34. History Reference Center. EBSCO. [Library name], [City], [State abbreviation]. Web.

The Economist. 2008. The Benefits and the Curse of Oil. The Economist. Vol 388 No. 8593. New York: The Economist Newspaper Limited.

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